Posted: 12 Oct 2014 10:00 PM PDT
by Jemi Fraser
Last month, my post talked about 5 Tips to Trim Your Writing. This month, I’m tackling the opposite. With my current rewrite, I attempted to plot (kaboom!) and ended up with a shorter story than I expected (15k shorter).
So, now I’m focusing on how to flesh out a story without padding it. Some of the things I’ve discovered:
Fleshing it Out Tip #1 — Emotions
This one I’m having a blast with. I write contemporary romance, so it’s all about the emotion, but I think that’s true for most stories. It’s the emotions that pull me in and make me gobble up those pages, no matter what the genre is.
Delving into the character’s emotions helps the reader connect and makes the writing much more interesting. For me, plot is obviously important, but it’s how the characters respond to the plot that intrigues me. So, show that!
Fleshing it Out Tip #2 — Show, Don’t Tell
Another fun one, and very connected to #1. Telling removes the emotion. Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said, “Don’t tell me the old lady screamed, bring her on stage and let her scream”? Looking for those telling words/sentences in the draft helps me find places I can strengthen my story and make it longer/more compelling at the same time.
Fleshing it Out Tip #3 — Dialogue
Connected to #2! I love dialogue and tend to include a lot of it in my writing naturally, but there are still places I find where I can have my characters really showing…by telling. Dialogue infuses the story with life and lets the readers hear your characters talking. It also gives the reader a visual–and mental–break from narration, thus increasing the pace of your story.
Fleshing it Out Tip #4 — Description
Blech. I’m not an especially visual person or writer. My descriptions tend to be focused around the emotions of the characters. And I’m not a fan of reading paragraphs of description either, so I tread very, very carefully when I do this.
For people, I sprinkle in the description. A mention of hair colour by another character here, a comment about height there. Nothing obvious, certainly no looking in the mirror and offering up a self-evaluation. For example, rather than saying my character is short, I’ll have her drag a chair over to reach something off a high shelf.
For places, I don’t mind stringing a sentence or two together to anchor the reader in the setting, especially when it’s a new place. I try to focus on what the character would notice, and only on what is relevant to the story.
I’d rather leave most description up to my readers, but I’m learning I need to include those anchors and let the readers fill in the rest.
Fleshing it Out Tip #5 — Character Arcs
This one is more complex than the first four. Here, I’m looking for the pace of how my characters are growing. I want them to slowly learn to change, have strategically placed AHA! moments, and obstacles tossed in their paths to have them second guessing their realizations. This is another instance where I find Scrivener invaluable. I can colour code, or use the side bar, or make another file to put side by side in order to track the arcs. Then I can spot where the arc needs some help, tweak a scene here, add a scene there, throw in another obstacle, or three.
There are many more ways to flesh out a story (adding in a subplot and looking for plot holes to fill in come to mind), but these are the 5 I’m working with. Any tips to add? Do you like fleshing it out or do you prefer to trim?